Can you imagine what 14 million hungry people look like? That’s nearly twice the population of London, all feeling the pain and fear of hunger.
Maybe it’s easier just to picture two hungry children, like those in this photograph from Yemen, dirty and tired but full of life.
Right now, 14 million people in Yemen – over half the country’s population – don’t have enough food.
A photography competition may be the last thing you’d expect to find in the middle of this crisis, caused by a violent civil war.
But the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Yemen recently organised one.
Why? “The competition is a tool and window to show the world how the humanitarian situation is getting worse,” said Adnan Hizam from ICRC.
A forgotten crisis
“Yemen is a forgotten country, already the poorest in the Middle East, falling apart because of this conflict,” said Antoine Grand of the ICRC in Yemen.
“People living in conflict areas are being killed and displaced.
“In many areas there are shortages of electricity and running water, which also cause big problems with the economy.
“But there is a big psychological impact as well.”
You would think that a crisis of this size would be headline news. But much of the world is locked out of Yemen because of the war.
Since others can’t tell their stories, local photographers used pictures to tell them instead for themselves and for their country.
No one is safe
The photographs document the difficulties of life in a conflict that disproportionately affects civilians.
For instance, over two million people have been forced to flee their homes because of bombing and fighting.
Many are children, such as this young girl who went back to the ruins of her house to retrieve her teddy bear.
In the midst of all this, the Red Cross managed to reach over 300,000 people with essential food, water and supplies this year.
Much of this work was supported by the Yemen Crisis Appeal.
“We are trying to concentrate on areas that are less accessible to others and the most affected – they usually go hand in hand,” Antoine Grand said.
Tragically, though, ten Red Cross volunteers and staff have died and four others have been wounded while bringing humanitarian aid to people in need.
Peace talks have now begun, but until a settlement is reached fighting continues in some areas and the needs remain huge.
The fighting has also led to 30,000 people being wounded or disabled in the past year.
At the same time, 600 of Yemen’s hospitals and health centres – usually seen as safe places – have been forced to close because of insecurity and shortages of fuel, oxygen and medicines.
“If you shoot a doctor, you not only kill the doctor, you indirectly kill the people who would have been saved,” Antoine Grand commented.
“It is the same with humanitarian workers. It prevents us from working to our full potential – we have to do less than we would have wanted.
“Still, the humanitarian organisations are doing a great job in an extremely difficult security environment.”
The power of pictures
But people still need to express themselves.
In this bombed house, someone painted a family portrait on the wall to show who once lived there.
This spirit informed the photography competition, with both professional and amateur photographers submitting their work.
It was judged by a panel of ICRC communications staff and photographers. “Selecting the best photos and winners took a lot of time to decide,” Adnan says.
“The winners were announced on the Yemen Facebook page just three days before the first anniversary of the ongoing conflict.”
The pictures then made it round the world on Twitter and other social media, meeting the competition’s goal: a window on the people behind the crisis.
“It was a good experience for the ICRC here in Yemen to organise such a competition for the first time and to attract the attention to the suffering of the Yemenis,” Adnan said.
Life goes on
“People tend to leave the damaged cities and go back to their village if it’s less affected by the conflict,” said Antoine Grand.
“They are hoping for the war to finish.
“We hope we will be able to start work in areas where the Red Cross hasn’t been before – but it depends on the security situation.
“For the longer term, we are supporting farmers, working with the Ministry of Agriculture to distribute improved seeds. We need to make sure that people’s livelihoods don’t collapse.”
The Red Cross has worked in Yemen since 1962 and will continue to work there during and after the current crisis.
For the moment, these small ‘windows’ into Yemen are all that most of the world can see.
If they motivate us to act, they will have served their purpose.
- Photography competition third prize winner by Saif Mater
- A boy holds the Yemeni flag by ICRC/Saddam AlQadimi
- Second prize winner by Hamzah AlQdeimi
- ICRC hospital © ICRC
- A house in Sanaa, the capital city ICRC/Saddam AlQadimi
- First prize winner by Saleh Bahlees